Friday, July 2, 2010

Spending Bills Take One Step Forward in House

In the current Congressional climate, it's not really clear how next year's federal spending bills will be handled (okay, so most of the pundits, lobbyists, and other observers of the annual appropriations process are predicting that everything will be bundled into one or more catch-all, or "omnibus" appropriations bills after the November elections). Nevertheless, several subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee did their part this week, right before Congress took off for the Independence Day recess.

This week's "markups" in these panels included FY 2011 appropriations for (i) Agriculture, (ii) Legislative Branch, (iii) State and Foreign Operations, (iv) Commerce, Justice and Science, and (v) Transportation and HUD.

Much can change between now and final enactment of the FY 2011 appropriations, especially in the absence of a SAFETEA-LU transportation reauthorization. However, the House "T-HUD" appropriations draft at least gives an indication of how transit and related programs may fare next year.

Overall, the House panel calls for a 5.4 percent increase in transit spending over this year's levels. That's an interesting figure, given President Obama's call for a "freeze" in domestic discretionary spending.

Here's how the House draft bill addresses aspects of the federal transportation program....

Within the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) programs, the draft House bill would increase formula grant programs (known to most FTA grantees by their authorizing statutes as Sections 5307, 5310, 5311, 5316 [JARC] and 5317 [New Freedom]), together with funds for fixed guideway modernization and buses and bus facilities by 7.4 percent, to a total of nearly $9.0 billion. FTA's administrative and staff budget would increase $32 million over this year's amount; the Washington (DC) Metrorail system would receive another infusion of $150.0 million and FTA major capital funding for "new starts and small starts" (all of which are rail and fixed guideway projects) would remain at this year's level of $2.0 billion.

The House bill would provide $20 million to the Secretary of Transportation's office for "Livable Communities" investments. The Secretary's office would receive $400 million for more rounds of "TIGER" grants.

Within the rail program, the House bill would provide $1.4 billion for high-speed rail projects, and would provide nearly $1.8 billion to Amtrak for operating, capital and debt service expenses.

It's far to early in the process for anyone to be taking these figures to the bank, but if you want to read more, be sure to visit the House Appropriations Committee's website.

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